Dating clay pipes

The extent of milling is one indication of a pipe’s quality, with the better pipes fully milled.

Burnishing is another indication and took place at all periods, although it is more common on London pipes in the 17th century than later.

Improvements in technology, the rapid growth of the tobacco trade with the New World, bringing down prices, and fashion and taste all worked together to bring about progressive developments in the shape and size of the clay pipe bowl.

Changes and variations in form can be traced at roughly 30-year intervals, providing an invaluable guide to dating that remains the basis of current clay pipe studies.

Using a small tool, the surface of the finished pipe was polished in a series of parallel vertical strokes running round the bowl and usually along the length of the stem as well.

The closer together and more carefully made the strokes are, the better the quality.

This could be made with the milled edge of the button or tool that was used to finish the inside of the bowl.

Since clay pipes were essentially disposable items, universally and easily obtainable and thrown away after only a few smokes, their potential for dating archaeological deposits is considerable.

They do, however, have an importance that goes far beyond chronology, throwing light on the role and history of leisure and recreation in daily life, furthering our understanding of the place of smoking in society and of the organisation of the industry across the country.

Accessing both data sets displays a row recording an individual glass or clay tobacco pipe form organised firstly by the unique sitecode from which they were found –usually a shortened version of the sites location by address with year of excavation –and secondly by the unique single context number given to the particular excavation unit from which this object was retrieved (for example, a context number would be given to a pit fill, a road surface, a wall etc).

The glass tableware data is the more basic of the two datasets, representing the 48 basic object classifications of this material used before it is usually examined in more detail.

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